Pentecostal madness

An interesting insight into the proliferation of religious superstition in Nigeria over the past few years, a reflection of the impasse of society.

The general crisis of capitalism finds its expression in the proliferation of all kinds of religious sects. The most pervasive is the phenomenon of Pentecostalism. As observed this has social roots. I will deal with this presently. This phenomenon is characterised by so-called miracle healing, financial breakthroughs, binding the forces of darkness and recently... so-called theory.

One such is the one being put forth by pop evangelist Chris Okotie. Although I have not read his voluminous book The Last Outcast, certain public pronouncements by him justify my criticism of its main tenets.

I will deal first with the claims of this particular sect that only three humans were destined to be born by unnatural means - whatever that was supposed to mean. Okotie locates these three people in Adam, Jesus and... well, the Anti-Christ.

According to the Bible Adam, the first man, was formed out of the dust of the earth by God who then breathed life into him. Afterwards, God, probably on a day when he was on an economy drive, proceeded to create woman (Eve) from Adam's rib while he slept. Strangely, however, Eve found no place in Okotie's three people of unnatural birth and this is not the place to argue about the sex of the "first human".

Suffice it to point out that God in reality had no hand in this process. Man as a biological type was not the product of creation - certainly not by any supernatural being. Rather, it was the other way round and it was man's primitive nature that created God - in man's image.
As we shall see this exclusion of Eve from his list is not accidental. Expressed in the myth of the immaculate conception was a patriarchal myth that the mother merely carried and nourished the living seed created by the father alone - of course the Holy Ghost was a man. This idea developed at the same time as private property.

Okotie's Outcast reveals a definite patriarchal bias. The class basis for this is the petty bourgeois. It is the need of an upper middle class person to "put women in their place" cloaked in the words of Habakuk. We shall get to this in due course.

We are told furthermore that God is not against polygamy. So... here we have it. What this simply means is that our "prophet" has lost faith in that "sacred union where two become one". He invokes religious mythology to sanction male promiscuity - or that euphemism, polygamy. 

The needs of an upper middle class person... 

However, God had nothing to do with marriage, in the first place, whether monogamy or polygamy. Marriage was created by patriarchy, which itself came about with the production of a surplus, ownership over this surplus and the need to pass it to one's children. However, under the hammer blows of the capitalist crisis, the institution of marriage is collapsing.
"Twelve years ago the spirit of God began to talk to me about the scientific phenomenon of cloning". As we can see there is no letting up. We are told the Anti-Christ - this recurring epithet - will be the only successfully cloned human. And what about the reported cloning of a man documented in the book In His Image? We are told nothing of this. What about all those who have come into the world through several processes of modern-day "virgin birth", viz, IVF, ICSI, Egg/Sperm donation etc.? Are they also potentially Anti-Christs? Come on Chris.
It is obvious that Chris Okotie is trying, much like Joshua who bid the sun stand still over Gideon and the moon over the vale of Ajalon, to halt humanity's attempt at understanding itself, of course with the help of the prophet Isaiah and, yes, pop evangelism. 

Significantly, the pastor's voluminous work comes on the heels of the sequencing of the human genome - an outstanding scientific breakthrough. This did not cut through heaven but it represents humanity's tireless effort at understanding the basis of life. The wonder is that even in the face of this achievement such mystification is still being peddled. Not for nothing was he unable to formulate his theory coherently, but, rather, had to seek refuge in the language of Aesop's fables. I think this indicates his inability to grasp the meaning of his reality. However, this inability is not individual: it is the social standpoint of a class that dares not "penetrate the reality that lies before its eyes" and, therefore, rejects the conclusion to which that reality leads.

Luther's challenge of the Papacy was expressive of capitalism in its ascent. Okotie's Last Outcast expresses its senile decay.

Symptom

Nothing is so symptomatic of the current void in Nigerian social life as the gatherings of hundreds of thousands of men and women for religious revivals on Sundays and other scheduled days to confess their spiritual crimes, receive divine healing, prophetic revelation and, more importantly, "claim back the years eaten by the locusts".

They are scenes of mass hysteria. Hundreds of thousands of men and women caught up in a religious spell, chanting, stomping, falling, dancing, shaking, gesticulating, genuflecting to the hypnotic suggestions of the spiritual hypnotist - the pastor. Dressed in a smart business suit he struts across the stage, microphone in hand, preaching the material merits of a good Christian life.

The message is simple: career success, wealth, social status, good marriages, good health, fruits of the womb and miracles are supposed to come about because the lord expects his 'children' to rise from "the dunghill to the palace" and also "expropriate" the gentiles - by what means we are not told. This is a message well suited to the social needs of a class caught in the grip of terrible economic crisis.

On the highways and side streets of Nigeria we have a kaleidoscope of billboards and banners announcing a veritable mushrooming of all kinds of religious denominations promising to the gullible a generous paradise on earth.

How is it to be explained, that Nigerians - regarded as living in one of the most corrupt and cynical countries on earth are so susceptible to religious quackery? To put it more scientifically, why did so many people turn towards religion as the solution to life's problem in the closing decades of the last century?

Social Roots

Pentecostalism as a religious trend coincided with a period of severe economic crisis in Nigeria. The introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programmed (SAP) triggered widespread unemployment and factory closures and destroyed the middle classes.
The collapse of Stalinism and the end of the cold war dealt a severe blow to the Nigerian left whose ideological base was... well, Socialism (as they perceived the Soviet Union). Added to this was widespread despair and demoralization on the part of workers in the face of continuing attacks on their livelihood and the seeming impotence of their organizations.
In this light, Pentecostalism expresses the breakdown of traditional economic and political relations as well as growing social instability. These profound but poorly understood political and economic changes impacted on the thinking of millions of people. In place of the old security, there was a pervasive sense of economic insecurity, uncertainty and even panic as well as a sense of hopelessness in the possibility of changing the world. Basing themselves on these sentiments, middleclass pastors and revivalists preach unquestioning acceptance of the present social order

Psychology

Not for nothing did Marx refer to religion as "the fantastic realization of the human being inasmuch as the human being possesses no true reality... religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions".
This is a profound insight into the social psychology of religion. The manipulation of mass sentiment finds expression in the image of Jesus as father. Thus, he becomes the prototype of authoritative figures to whom the individual must submit without question.
As we have seen, Pentecostalism in Nigeria arose as an attempt to deal with the frightening realities of social life and the impossibility of satisfying fundamental desires. In the existing volatile social relations it served to mitigate social conflict in an illusory way by providing a psychological ground for social conformity - a conformity that recognizes, nevertheless, traditional class hierarchies - using the notion of God to justify their empty lives. The social needs of the of the petty bourgeois for revolutionary leadership was transposed, in the absence of this, into the realm of religion.

What this reveals is the current vacuum in Nigerian political life. But, this won't last for long. Today's charlatans with easy answers fill stadiums and church buildings - that were once factories - with crowds. The molecular process of revolution is yet at work. Only a revolutionary Socialist movement, embracing the widest layers of the toiling masses will fill this vacuum.